For example, we discovered the mayor had some sort of link to Anaheim Beautiful, a non-profit organization that Faessel and his wife have championed. Multiple photographs The Investigator reviewed show Aitken attended a couple of events this group held at various venues, sometimes while the councilman’s wife was present.
In one photo of a September 2018 luncheon, Aitken can be seen seated at a table directly across from Campos-Kurtz, a who not only joined the Board of Directors of Anaheim Beautiful the previous year, but also maintained a tight relationship with Faessel through her job as district director for state Assemblyman Tom Daly.
Campos-Kurtz (back to camera) with Aitken in 2018.
In an attempt to learn more, The Investigator sent an email to Faessel asking him about his interactions with Aitken, including what knowledge he had about her with respect to Anaheim Beautiful, especially since evidence in our possession suggested that she had been affiliated with this non-profit for at least six years.
In response, the councilman told us that though he doesn’t consider Ashleigh to be a close friend, he has known her for “some years” now. But he said that they became acquainted with each other through their involvement with the Muzeo Museum&Cultural Center and Community Services Board, not Anaheim Beautiful.
Below is Faessel‘s reply:
I served as a member of the original MUZEO board with Betty Aiken and got to know her husband Wylie through that connection, I recall that Ashleigh chaired a MUZEO Fundraiser years ago when her mom and dad were still active in the organization.
My wife Susan served on the Anaheim Community Services Board along with Mrs. Ashleigh Aitken for a couple years in the later 2000’s (I cannot recall exactly) so certainly I got to meet her from time to time there.
While you mentioned her being a member of Anaheim Beautiful, I do not have any personal knowledge of that. Susan and I are very supportive of Anaheim Beautiful however I don’t know every member. She may have been a member.
To go to your main question, we know of each other and have for some years. We do not, nor ever have met socially (unless we happened to have attended the same event coincidentally.)
Therefore I would not describe our relationship as ‘close friends.’
The Anaheim Investigator made at least three attempts to contact Aitken and Berenice Ballinas, her chief of staff, requesting comment for this article. However, for some strange reason, the mayor, who claims to be open and transparent with everybody, declined to answer any of the questions we sent her and ignored our emails.
Norma Campos-Kurtz (left) with Jordan Brandman (right) at an Anaheim Beautiful luncheon in December 2017.
By DUANE ROBERTS Editor & Publisher
In the aftermath of the AnaheimCity Council vote to appointNorma Campos-Kurtz to the District 4 seat vacated by Avelino Valencia III last year, a number of partisan Democrats were struggling to figure out the reason why Councilman Stephen Faessel was seemingly “chosen” to nominate her during the final round of balloting.
One video that was circulated on various Facebook groups made an attempt to understand what transpired by carefully dissecting every single move the council made that night. But such superficial analysis always ends up becoming an exercise in futility especially if you don’t know anything about the context of the behavior which took place.
The Anaheim Investigator, however, knew there was a very simple explanation for all of this. And we really didn’t have to dig that deep to find it. Evidence shows that Campos-Kurtz and Faessel are friends. Regardless of what the councilman’s publicly-stated motives were for picking her, they’ve known each other at least since 2016.
The relationship between the two began in earnest shortly after Faessel was elected to his seat on the Anaheim City Council in 2016. At that time, Campos-Kurtz was district director for Tom Daly, a state Assemblyman whose area encompassed a large chunk of Anaheim. One of her tasks was to do outreach to the councilman.
Things began to blossom when Campos-Kurtz joined the Board of Directors of Anaheim Beautiful in 2017, a non-profit organization whose core membership appears to consist of upper-middle class homeowners, some of whom have had ties to other groups like Support our Anaheim Resort and the now-defunct Anaheim First.
Not only has Faessel been a strong supporter of Anaheim Beautiful, but his wife has been an active participant in their activities:”Susan supports … Anaheim Beautiful programs such as Green Ribbon Week, Neighborhood Clean Up, Memorial Tree and Holiday Lights Tour,” according to the Anaheim High School Alumni Association website.
There is no doubt Campos-Kurtz’s involvement with Anaheim Beautiful’s board has benefited them. For example, in two messages posted on Facebook and Twitter in 2019 and 2021, it appears she was instrumental in boosting political support for that non-profit’s activities, including a scholarship program and a holiday lights award ceremony.
In direct response to a question The Investigator emailed to Campos-Kurtz about her relationship with Faessel, she quite frankly admitted to us what we already suspected based on evidence gathered during our own probe: that she had been friends with the councilman for several years now, though mostly in an official capacity.
“I met the councilmember soon after he was first elected to council as a result of responsibilities while working for then Assemblymember Tom Daly,” she told us last Friday. “Over the years I’ve met up with the councilmember (and his wife) at several community events, organization luncheons/dinners, city meetings and events.”
For matter of record, The Investigator does not dispute that Campos-Kurtz is qualified to be a councilwoman. But decisions to appoint someone to a vacant seat aren’t made at a city council meeting alone. They are based on pre-existing relationships formed over years of interactions. Faessel may deny it, but that’s one reason why he nominated her.
Evidence reviewed by The Investigator–including campaign finance documents, numerous photographs, and archived websites–not only show that both women have contributed money to SOAR’s political action committee through various fundraisers, but that one of them was appointed to its separate advisory board in 2022.
Newby, a longtime resident of Anaheim, is the owner of Gallery Travel, a “full-service travel agency.” Between 2013 and 2014, she served on the board of directors of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce and has been active in other groups formed by that body, such as Anaheim First, which was backed by former Mayor Harry Sidhu.
Multiple photographs in the possession of The Investigator show Newby has participated in SOAR fundraisers on and off since 2014. Form 460s filed by SOAR with the City Clerk’s office report she gave at least $100 to them on at least four different occasions (the last time being August 26, 2021), but did so under the name of her business.
That Campos-Kurtz has a close relationship with SOAR is of no surprise. Between 2014 and 2021, she worked for Democratic State Assemblyman Tom Daly, who was one of the earliest champions of this Disney-funded entity. Not only do Form 460s show that Daly got funds from them, but he bragged about their endorsement in 2012.
In 2020, SOARspent a whopping $405,710–the bulk of which came from The Walt Disney Company–to help Valencia get elected to his District 4 city council seat. It’s not a coincidence that at the time this was happening, he was working as a field representative for Daly and Campos-Kurtz just so happened to be his boss.
Screenshot from SOAR’s website.
Despite the fact eleven other people have filed applications seeking appointment to the District 4 city council seat, The Investigator believes that none of them ever stood a chance of being considered for this position. From our perspective, the decision as to who will replace Valencia had already been made weeks ago.
However, there appears to be no clear consensus on the Anaheim City Council right now as to whether they will pick Campos-Kurtz or Newby. There is a possibility the vote could end up deadlocked 3-3 for both. Regardless of what the case will be, the odds a candidate tied to SOAR will be chosen to fill this seat are quite high.
The job offer was set into motion shortly after Valencia sent out an email to James Vanderpool, the city manager, on Monday, July 26, 2021, expressing that he “would like to hire Dr. Tina Arias Miller as a Senior Policy Aide…. Dr. Miller will be working about 6-7 hours a week. Her hourly compensation will be $31.00 an hour.”
Valencia’s email to the city manager.
Documents The Investigator acquired from the City of Anaheim show that Miller worked for Valencia less than a year. A human resources action report notes she was hired on August 16, 2021. And her last day on the job was March 31, 2022, according to the final Form 700 Statement of Economic Interests that she filed.
However, it’s unclear what Miller did for the councilman that warranted her higher pay grade. For example, The Investigator carefully reviewed his calendar during the several months he employed her and though she was sent to a few city meetings, she appears to have spent most of her time doing tasks that lesser-paid council aides do.
But most importantly, Valencia took steps to ensure the public never knew he had hired her. At no time did he ever list Miller’s name on his homepage on the city website. And despite the fact she had an official email address, she was apparently told not to use it to send messages, enabling her to elude detection from public records act requests.
From a Form 460 Valencia filed for his central committee race.
It is extremely odd for an organization like the Santa Ana Police Officers Association to give funds to a candidate seeking election to the central committee of a political party. But if anything, it is indicative of how important Valencia is to Serrano and his top allies. Indeed, The Anaheim Investigator has uncovered evidence suggesting only friends who are part of the latter’s inner circle are given this type of favorable treatment.
A Form 802 Valencia filed shows he gave tickets to Conde.
Of course, all of this begs the question as to why Valencia is so cozy with Serrano and his top allies. But the answer is quite simple. The Investigator believes the former is only using his seat on the Anaheim City Council as a stepping stone to get elected to the state legislature in the 69th State Assembly District. After all, Daly, his boss, is termed out in 2024. However, to do that, he’ll need support not only in Anaheim, but in Santa Ana.
Regardless of what one may think about the Santa Ana Police Officers Association, they wield a lot of influence and power, if not more so in a top-two primary system where all voters may cast a ballot for any candidate, regardless of political affiliation. Their backing in the 69th District could prove critical in helping a right-wing Democrat like Valencia squeeze past the primary with a small plurality of votes and end up in Sacramento.
Gerry Serrano (left), President of the Santa Ana Police Officers Association, with Serina (right), his wife, at an event in Newport Beach in 2017.
By DUANE ROBERTS Editor & Publisher
In 2019, when Gabriel San Roman, a former investigative journalist for the defunct-OC Weekly, reviewed more than 1,539 ticket disclosure forms—Form 802sas they are called—to see who received the thousands of dollars worth of tickets the city got each year from Angel Stadium and Honda Center, he noticed an unusual practice: some council members were trying to avoid publicly disclosing the identity of persons they were really giving tickets to by reporting that they gave them to their spouse instead.
But documents The Investigator obtained under the California Public Records Act show Valencia may have tried to go further than this. An earlier Form 802 the councilman submitted offers prima facie evidence suggesting he made an attempt to hide Serina’s identity from public disclosure by using Serina Porras, her maiden name, instead of Serina Serrano, her married (and legal) one. If this form had been officially filed with the city under her maiden name, it would have been much harder to link her to Gerry.
Screenshot of the withdrawn Form 802 with Serina’s maiden name.
In a followup message, Torres told Serina that he got this information directly from the councilman. “I was unaware that we had your old name filed,” he typed. But in a stunning admission, he acknowledged to Serina he knew what her legal name was: “Frankly, I used Serina Serrano for this email thread because that was your apparent name based on your email address.” Indeed, The Investigator has an unredacted copy of her personal email address and can confirm he was using it to communicate with her.
Though Torres would later claim Valencia was “unaware of the name change,” all of this begs the question of how he knew Serina’s maiden name was Porras? Furthermore, the councilman himself most likely provided his city council assistant with her personal email address. Wouldn’t it be reasonable to assume since that email has Serrano as her last name, that’s how she identifies herself? Perhaps it should be noted she uses it as a last name on all of her identifiable social media accounts as well.
Under California state law, there are criminal statutes—specifically Penal Code 115—which make it a crime to file a false Form 802 with a government agency. For example, if a person knowingly files a document that contains inaccurate information, they could face a felony charge. However, a document has to have been officially filed with an agency before a prosecution can take place. That didn’t happen in this situation. The Form 802 in question was withdrawn and quickly replaced with a corrected version.
For matter of record, The Investigator emailed Valencia approximately three times requesting comment for this article. We wanted to know the reason why he felt motivated to use Serina’s maiden name on the original Form 802 he submitted, then later withdrew due to her questioning why it was being used. We were hoping that his reply would put our concerns about this matter to rest. But so far, the dapper councilman from District 4 hasn’t bothered responding to any of the messages we sent him.
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